Earlier this month we caught wind that Phosphor Games was planning to give the paid version of Dark Meadow ($1.99) a free to play extreme makeover. Our community caught wind, formed up the all too predictable angry mob, and the next day Phosphor decided that the free to play version would come as a separate app instead of updating the existing paid version.
Last night, two things happened. First off, Dark Meadow: The Pact (Free) hit the App Store, offering players who never tried the original game a free opportunity to dip their toes into the Dark Meadow universe. Secondly, Dark Meadow was updated to have all the improvements of the free version. This includes Retina Display support for the new iPad and some new content which comprises both new areas and enemies as well as weapons. Getting around in the game is also easier, as they’ve not only added an in-game map, but also the ability to warp around so you don’t have to totally start over when you die.
Regardless, I’d still back up your original Dark Meadow .ipa file before updating in case you ever want to go back, especially if you’re the kind of person who hates shoehorned IAP currency. The way I (and a lot of our community it’d seem) read the original explanation from Phosphor on how they were going to split the free and paid versions was more along the lines of “We’re going to add the tweaks and new content from the free to play version to the existing paid version, leaving all the wacky micro transaction stuff to the free version."
Unfortunately, what we got is an update which adds all the IAP currencies as well along with a consolation prize of sorts which amounts an ability to toggle the ads off along with some normal coins, sun coins (the IAP currency), along with some consumable health packs and bombs. (Bombs destroy enemies without needing to fight them.)
The IAP currency balancing is also crazy. If you want any of the new items which are purchased with sun coins, even in the paid version, you have three options:
- Grind for eternity farming up kill streaks to earn sun coins.
- Buy sun coins via IAP.
- Complete referral offers like signing up for credit cards and online dating sites among other things.
Weirder yet, the way these referral offers are balanced against the actual IAP makes no sense. For instance, one of the referral offers asks you to buy a PC or Mac game from Big Fish Games for $2.99. This rewards you with as much IAP currency as the $9.99 bundle of sun coins, but you also get a PC/Mac game out of the deal. Normally I’d say this isn’t that big of a problem because you can just try to ignore the IAP items and play the game with what you can get with in-game coins… BUT.
The problem with this line of thinking and Dark Meadow is that character progression in these Infinity Blade-like games hinges on gear unlocks, while both saving up and looking forward to the next weapon you can afford. Yes, it’s entirely optional, but looking at what you can buy with the non-IAP currency from the in-game item shop feels like ordering off the kids menu when compared to the substantial difference in power found in the premium IAP-currency items.
That being said, if you can deal with this proverbial carrot being dangled in front of your face while you play through both the free and paid versions of Dark Meadow, the gameplay is actually legitimately better than it was before. IAP schemes aside, combat feels much more responsive, the ability to warp back to near where you were when you died was sorely needed, and it looks great on the new iPad.
The good news is that the guys from Phosphor are all over the thread on our forums responding to user feedback, and seem genuinely interested in making players happy. That counts for something, although I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed in this trend on the App Store. Dark Meadow was one of the early games powered by the Unreal engine, and it’s sad to see the game go down the same free to play path as everyone else instead of just proudly existing as a premium showpiece title.